Eventually I was old enough to go to Day Camp in the summer. I was seven years of age. Portage Park, at Irving Park Road and Central Avenue, was the place my parents decided to send me for my first Day Camp experience. It was a great place to have a camp. There was the size. It was way bigger than Gompers Park, which was closer to home. There were a pool, a softball/baseball field, playground equipment, benches and picnic tables, a field house, and more. I was eager for this summertime adventure.
But the park was too far from home to walk. I would have to learn to ride the bus---by myself. Why? Because in those days in Chicago parents did not chauffeur their children anywhere. A child either walked, rode his or her bicycle, or took public transportation. So Dad set out to teach me how to ride the CTA bus.
The closest bus stop for the purpose of going to Portage Park was a few blocks from my house at the intersection of Kostner and Foster. My first bus lesson consisted of Dad walking me to the bus stop and actually riding with me all the way to Portage Park. As we went he explained everything to me. I'd walk north on Kolmar past our little neighborhood park to Carmen. Then, turn right and walk east to Kostner. Then take Kostner north to Foster.
Now the challenge was to safely cross Foster, a busy street. But Dad explained carefully how to do it. There was not a traffic light at that corner then. But there were traffic lights further down the way on both ends, so it was a matter of crossing when the traffic at those other corners had stopped. Hard to explain, but doable.
Then Dad stood with me and we waited for a bus. This is when I began the habit of looking way down the street to see if the bus was coming. When the bus was close Dad showed me to raise my hand to let the driver know I wanted to ride.
When the bus stopped we boarded. Dad showed me where and how to deposit the coin. It was a dime for me. There was a slot for the coin. He also instructed me to ask for a transfer. Transfers were free in those days, but they were stamped with an expiration time of about an hour, so one couldn't reuse it after the time expired.
Then we went to find an empty seat. Dad made sure I was at the window. He pointed out the landmarks along the way. He explained which street would be right before my stop. It was Milwaukee. He showed me how to signal the driver that I wanted to get off. In those years there was a cord that ran along the side of the bus above the windows. You pulled it and it buzzed to alert the driver to stop. You could get off at the front or the back door of the bus. I preferred the front. So we got off at Central Avenue and used the transfer there.
On Central Dad showed me on which side of the street to stand and wait. Then, when the bus came, I had to give the driver my transfer before finding a seat. I took this bus to Berteau. The street right before Berteau was Hutchinson. Berteau and Central was my destination. I was at Portage Park.
Dad and I walked through the park for awhile, then we went home, reversing the process.
So that was lesson one.
Lesson two was more advanced. Dad reviewed everything from lesson one. Then I was to ride the bus alone. But Dad would follow the bus in the car in case something went wrong. He would be there. That gave me confidence. So, seven-year-old me boarded the Foster bus and headed for Portage Park. I made the whole trip without a hitch. There was a great sense of accomplishment. That was my last lesson. From then on I was on my own.
I started summer Day Camp and I loved it. I had my T-shirt, my baseball cap, and my ditty bag packed with my bathing suit, towel, and lunch. Fun, fun fun!
Dad was a great teacher in this way. And I think accomplishing these little goals with careful guidance really did instill a sense of pride.
[FYI: Now all of this was happening before there was an Interstate System in Chicago. Believe it or not I watched the Interstate being built. There was a section of it going in just a couple of blocks from our house. I still remember how, in the years and months preceding the project, the grown-ups, especially my Gramma Lucas, would talk about eminent domain and how some people's homes were to be purchased by the federal government and torn down to make way for the Interstate. So many neighbors were worried about this. Some of my friends had to move because their homes were slated for demolition. Our block survived.]